Editor’s note: This broadcast came about as a result of the following article we reported on: Champaign County restaurants fail inspections but public never told
David Inge: Good morning and welcome to Focus our morning talk show my name is David Inge I’m glad to have you with us. If you are thinking about dining out in East Central Illinois you have a lot of choices, in Champaign County alone. There are some thousand places that you can eat and they are routinely inspected by local health authorities some fail. In finding out which before you leave home for a night out that can be a challenge for diners. This morning on Focus we’ll be talking about restaurant inspections and we will talk with the directors of public health for Vermilion and McLean Counties also for Champaign-Urbana. We’ll talk about what they do to monitor conditions in restaurant kitchens and how they make their reports available to the public. First though, what we’d like to do to provide you a little background is to play a report from CU Citizen Access. About one in 10 restaurants in Champaign County failed their health inspection during a four year period ending last April. But customers in the county have no easy of knowing how sanitary the place is at which they eat really are? CU Citizen Access reporter Dan Petrella reports on what’s in those inspection reports and why you can’t find them on the health departments’ website.
Radio Story: About one in 10 restaurants in Champaign County failed a health inspection from April 2007 through April 2011, according to a review of inspection records by CU-CitizenAccess.org.
But customers have no easy way of knowing just how sanitary the places at which they eat really are.
Take, for example, Geovanti’s Bar & Grill, which failed public health inspections five times from September 2008 through February of this year.
But no one who eats there would ever know, unless they requested copies of the Campustown restaurant’s inspection reports from the local public health district.
That’s because – unlike many other counties and cities in central Illinois and across the country – the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District currently doesn’t publicize the results of its restaurant inspections in any form. Not online, not on placards at restaurants and not in local newspapers.
This means the public has no way way of knowing about health-code violations, such as the live and dead cockroaches found during a November 2009 inspection at Geovanti’s.
Owner Anthony Donato said the restaurant works closely with the district to make sure it meets health codes. Geovanti’s recently had a voluntary health inspection and passed with flying colors, he said.
Julie Pryde, the district’s public health administrator, said the fact that a restaurant is open for business shows eating there is safe.
“If you go into a restaurant and it’s open, we’ve been in there, and they’ve passed,” Pryde said. “And there are times where you’ll go to a restaurant, and it will not be open. It may not say, ‘Closed by the health department’ on the front door, but if it’s not open, that’s because there’s an immediate health risk.”
Pryde and other public health officials have long said they want to make information about inspections of the county’s more than 1,000 eating establishments more available to the public. They believe providing diners with access to complete restaurant inspection reports will give them the information they need to make the best decisions for their health.
But, after years of talk, they still have not done so.
Since getting new software to manage inspection reports in 2007, they have spoken about plans for a website that would allow consumers to look up the records online.
In 2008, environmental health director Jim Roberts said he hoped to have the site up the following year.
This spring, he said they were shooting for September. In late August, he revised the time line once again.
“I would hope by January 2012,” Roberts said.
He said there are several reasons for the delays.
“First, we had to make sure the system was working as we wanted it to,” Roberts said. “The second thing is that I don’t have a project manager to do this, so I do this as time permits me to do so.”
Meanwhile, since 2003, neighboring Vermilion County has taken the low-tech route of requiring restaurant owners to post letter grades from their most recent inspections in their establishments alongside their health permits.
Douglas Toole is the environmental health director in Vermilion County.
“It’s a lot about informing the public,” Toole said. “When they go into a restaurant, the public can see the dining area, certainly, and they can see what the restrooms look like and they can see, depending on the place, a small amount of the food-preparation or food-storage area. But a lot of it takes place behind the scenes.”
While Vermilion County officials see this as a way of providing the public with information they’re entitled to see under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, Champaign-Urbana’s Julie Pryde see the letter grades differently.
“It’s completely worthless,” Pryde said.
She said when people see a letter grade, they don’t bother to find out what went into earning that grade.
“If you only are looking at one thing, A, I think it will give people a false sense of security, and, B, it might negatively impact a restaurant’s business when there’s no point in it,” Pryde said.”Give them all the information or no information at all.”
Illinois law doesn’t require health departments to publish inspection results online or in hardcopy. But Vermillion isn’t the only area county the takes the initiative to make its scores public.
McLean, Macon and Sangamon counties all post inspections scores on their websites.
Manny Martinez is executive chef of Destihl Restaurant and Brew Works, which has locations in Champaign and Normal. Inspection scores for the Normal restaurant are posted on the McLean County Health Department website.
The scores can be deceiving because they don’t tell customers whether a restaurant lost points for major violations or for several minor violations that might have little to do with sanitation, Martinez said.
But overall, he doesn’t mind the information being available to the public.
“For a restaurant, it doesn’t really matter to us, as long as we know we’re doing a good job, and we get inspected and we’re doing a great job,” he said.
For now, if diners in Champaign County want to know how clean and sanitary a restaurant is, they’ll have to call the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department themselves.
I’m Dan Petrella for C-U Citizen Access and Illinois Public Media.
[End or radio story]
David Inge: University of Illinois Journalism alumni Jennifer Wheeler and Steve Contorno and C-U Citizen Access reported Pam Dempsey contributed to this story. To read more about restaurant inspections in Champaign and other areas and to view an interactive map of restaurants that have failed inspections visit cu-citizenaccess.org. The C-U Citizen Access project is run by the journalism department of the University Of Illinois College Of Media. Later today on the Afternoon Magazine we’ll be talking with Brant Houston, he is one of the members of the journalism faculty who oversees the project and they’ll talk about how and why C-U Citizen Access reported this story, that’s at 12:40.
Here in studio with me I have Jim Roberts and Doug Toole you heard them in the report we just aired. Jim Roberts is director of environmental health for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Doug Toole is director of Environmental Health for Vermilion County Health District. Also joining us by telephone is Tom Anderson director of environmental health for McLean County and we will be talking about restaurant inspections what they do, how they make that information available to the public and people who are listening to us and who are watching us can call 333-9455 that’s if you are in Champaign-Urbana. The toll free line is 800-222-9455 and if you like you can also send us an email and that address is will-talk@Illinois.edu. So at any point here people with questions can call us. Joining us here on the telephone is Tom Anderson, Mr. Anderson hallo.
Tom Anderson: Good morning David.
David Inge: And here in Studio with me Jim Roberts.
Jim Roberts: Good morning.
David Inge: And Doug Toole thanks for being here.
Doug Toole: Good morning David, thank you.
David Inge: Just real quick I’d like to ask a couple of basic questions and I have this feeling that the answers for each of you are going to be the same but just let me ask. I’ll start with Jim Roberts, how often are restaurants in Champaign-Urbana inspected?
Jim Roberts: We have about a 1,050 establishments and one of the requirements that the Illinois Department of Public Health requires of the local health department is to classify each one of those facilities into a risk category. Risk category 1, 2 and 3 is what we use in Champaign-Urbana and Champaign-County. Risk category 1 has complex food preparation or may have a susceptible population at this area for example at a hospital or a nursing home. We are required to have three contacts within the calendar year, often times it can be three inspections but also it can be two unannounced routine inspections and it also can be an educational contact. The minimum for a category two establishment is more of a, and this type of establishment is more of a cook and serve type establishment and the minimum requirement is one inspection per year and then a category 3 like prepackaged food for example like all this Food Store and they are inspected at a minimum once every two years.
David Inge: So for most people when they are going out to a restaurant they are going to a category 2 place and this is the place that’s going to be inspected once a year?
Jim Roberts: I would say category 1 or category 2.
David Inge: Okay. So and how many people do you have doing these inspections?
Jim Roberts: I have six of full time equivalence doing inspections and I also have one part-time equivalent who helps out like with our temporary permits that Doug and I talked about before that we have quite a few of those and then I also have individuals who coordinate the program and also review the plans for new construction or remodeling.
David Inge: Okay, so I’m assuming I will go over here to Doug Toole that in Vermilion County basically you are doing the same you are doing the same things that they are doing in Champaign-County?
Doug Toole: To a smaller scale we only have about 440 license facilities and when we say restaurants for us as he mentioned we are also referring to the hospitals, to schools, the grocery stores, the taverns any food service establishment. We may be using restaurant in a generic term as we are talking today but we are talking about both retail and food that’s prepared.
David Inge: And Tom how many places do you routinely inspect over there in McLean County
Tom Anderson: McLean County currently has 806 active establishments and again as Doug and Jim have explained that includes hospitals, daycares, long-term care. Incarceration facilities.
David Inge: Okay. I will come back here to Jim and maybe we will spend a little bit more time talking about how it is that people can access that information so if I’m here in Champaign-Urbana and I’m going to, at a particular restaurant I decided I wanted to go to this place and I would like to know what were the results of the most recent inspection of that place what would I need to do?
Jim Roberts: It is true at this time we don’t have it on our website so what you can do is contact a health department and request the inspection report, we can mail you a copy, we can email you a copy, we can fax you a copy. The other source would be to ask the food establishment operator or manager themselves because when we do an inspection we leave a hardcopy with the management and if you were interested ask them and they should be able to show you the report and I think it would be a fine opportunity for them to show you how they made corrections for the things that were found in the report.
David Inge: So that and there’s no requirement that though a restaurant owner manager post that information?
Jim Roberts: That’s correct there’s no requirement.
David Inge: Does any county… I know there’s no state requirement, does any country actually require that, that you put that up on the wall right by the front door when you come in?
David Inge: So is if I want to found the reports are there I just have to come down there to your place or to call…
Jim Roberts: Contact the health department.
David Inge: Okay, over in Vermilion country now one of the thing that you have done is you have a system where based on your reports you assign a restaurant a letter grade?
Doug Toole: That’s correct our answer is basically the same as what Jim had plus a step further, you can always contact the health department directly, it’s not on our website but you can call us for information and also ask the restaurant managers if they have it. Back in 2003 we decided to go a step further. A food program supervisor was looking for ways to help better inform the public about things. We came up with a scorecard about half size of a sheet of paper and it will have a pre-printed on it an A, B or C designation. So place that score between, as we go through and do the inspection report they get assigned a number based on sort of violations we find.
If they score between a 90 and 100 they’re given an A on that post and we also write the number score they got on it then 80 to 89 is a B, 70 to 79 is a C and then below that 69 and lower if they score that we end up closing them until they can bring the place into substantial compliance.
David Inge: I think that question some people might have about the letter grade is that that’s good I mean and I think if I went to restaurant and I saw there was an A, I would think okay that’s a good thing, I’ll be fine going there. Once you get past that point I would wonder, well what does that mean exactly? Say if a restaurant gets a B, say a restaurant gets a C, how do you, do you expect people to understand what exactly that means?
Doug Toole: I think it starts the conversation at least and you can go in and take a look at a place and see if they scored 100 then you know they passed on everything. You go into a place and see they scored like a 91 or they got a B on it. That raises some questions and maybe now it’s the time to start asking the restaurant manager or calling the health department, what kind of problems are in the place. I know when we have an inspector comes back after doing a report he’ll say, ‘I was in this place for an hour and half and the place scored a 91.’ That tells me something about it but we’re still interested, how many critical problems were there, how many serious health hazards did you find or was it just a number of small problems he saw that added up to that 91.
David Inge: That’s, I want to come back to that issue of what’s a big problem what’s a small problem. But let me go now to Tom Anderson over in McLean country because you do have information available now on your website and have been doing that for a while. So if I’m interesting in finding out about a restaurant that’s in Bloomington-Normal for example and I go to your website what do I find there?
Tom Anderson: You’ll find the scores during a history, the history of the inspection and life of the restaurant. So when you go onto our website and you enter in the restaurant of choice name you’ll see, it’s numerically coded but right on the front of our website we tell you what those codes mean. We have a 58 code which is a regular inspection. It’s an unannounced routine inspection. We have a 59 coding which indicates a re-inspection. So the general public can go onto that website and look at the history of inspections for almost as long as that the establishment has been in existence and unlike the scoring which we’ve briefly talked about is just a snapshot in time.
So whether we issue an establishment a grade or we give them an actual score that’s only what we see at that particular time in which the inspector was there. I don’t believe any county has a perfect system but we do the best we can with the resources that we have. With our system the general public can go and see the history. So if we have an establishment on the website that’s scoring consistently in the 70s that’s to tell the general public something. Then you look and you see restaurants that, consistently score in the 90s in just in our upbringing in schooling a 70 tells you that they’re probably doing about average.
David Inge: And…
Tom Anderson: But we see that, that pretty much tells you that they’re not putting a whole lot of effort into their sanitation and their food handling practices.
David Inge: And if people are interested in reading the actual reports that your staff do are they available there if someone wants it?
Tom Anderson: Yes but state law, state statute requires us to make that accessible to the general public under Freedom of Information Act.
David Inge: But that’s…you can’t get that through the website?
Tom Anderson: Yes, you can request the information through, from the website on freedom of information. What you can’t see and I think this is what you’re going into is, you can’t see the actual violation in our restaurant scoring database and the reason for that is that the time that the database was set up in the mid 90s there were no programs that were compatible with our operating system that could identify each individual inspector’s style of writing.
David Inge: Let me go real quick and introduce the guest for people who might just have tuned in, we’re talking with here on the phone Tom Anderson he’s director of environmental health for the McLean health district that’s over in McLean County. Here in the studio with me Jim Roberts he’s director of environmental health with the Champaign-Urbana public health district and Doug Toole he’s director of environmental health for Vermillion country health district and we’re talking about restaurant inspections. What it is that they do how it is they do it, how that information is made available to the public. I do want to mention again for the people who are Champaign-Urbana that the CU Citizens Access Project has collected information on restaurants that have failed and have put that on an interactive map that is on their website. So again, if you want to take a look at that you can visit their website cu-citizenaccess.org to find out more about citizen access. This is a project that’s run by the journalism department of the University Of Illinois College Of Media and also works with us here at Illinois Public Media and also the news gazette.
Doug Toole: If I can go back to something you mentioned earlier and Tom touched on as well. Our scorecard system is certainly not perfect and you can get some information from it but not a whole lot and you’re asking if it is it too simple and well it maybe but it is, it’s something that’s posted conspicuously on every place. So you can go in and just get that quick snapshot as I’m going into everyplace whether I have a Smartphone with me or whether I check this on the laptop before I got here as I’m working at each restaurant, each grocery store. I can see in Vermillion country this place get an A, B or C and again it’s a simple system but it’s very visible and it’s very low tech and it’s something that’s out there for people that again sort of starts the conversation.
It’s certainly not perfect and when we decided on this in 1993 obviously web based technology has advanced quite a bit since then.
David Inge: Let me real quick also give our phone number because people who are listening, watching and want to call in with question they can certainly do that, 333-9455 here in Champaign-Urbana toll free 800-222-9455 and if you want to send us an email you can do that to that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Well I expect that you really, you wanted to make this information available. We are now in the age of the internet and people are expecting to be able to…virtually I’m sure there are people who are expecting if they’re standing in front of a restaurant to pull out their Smartphone and pull up a report and find out right then. What’s preventing you from actually being able to provide the information in an as immediate a way as that?
Jim Roberts: Well I think from the hi-tech end is that it requires people to do some kind of work. They have talents and skills that I don’t have and so that’s why we interact with the university students. You know, we’ve worked with computer science, department of computer science, vet med, department of psychology and food science. So we try to interact with the university to get some of that talent skill brought in so we can kind of get some of that hi-tech information that we just don’t posses or have the time to do sometimes too because they have the need for a project and they have the time to be able to do something, so.
David Inge: So it’s not that you don’t think that it’s important, is it no, it’s a matter of resources?
Jim Roberts: It’s important, it should be out there, people have the right to have that information, it’s going from what we collect as from paper and getting it out in different formats whether it’s hi-tech being on the website or using a Smartphone and then, also I want to do low tech. I would like to do reports on the doors. I would like to have those inspection reports on the doors just like you would see a menu on the front of a restaurant so you could make a decision before you go in and with those reports I’d like to not only have our recent inspection report but I also would like to have a report from the food service that says how they make corrections to that because I think that would be great information and then the other thing I’d like to do to is we, everyone alludes to is the snapshot. I like to put trends over time so that you can see just like the stock market and how your stock performs you can see trends over time how this facility is managing food safety and sanitation.
David Inge: Let me ask you, I’m just a bit curious but Doug have you made some kind of plans or are you trying to move into the direction of doing something like what they’ve done over in McLean County and have that available on the, on your website?
Doug Toole: Yeah, a current system is something we came to back in 2003 and again the technology has changed a whole lot. We still do our inspections on paper copies with pen. There is some alternatives now where you can do it digitally, that would make it easier to move. We are in the process of updating the website of Vermilion County Health Department and this is something that would be an option now that we didn’t see as strong a possibility back in 2003.
Jim Roberts: I would say from that Champaign too is that we are doing our inspection reports digitally and so the object is that we get that information as soon as its upload, synchronized with the servers that you would have daily information as to what took place today or yesterday.
David Inge: Let me, I want to go over to Tom Anderson just because I am sure that you all have a big job in all of your places and you have a lot of work to do and even if you have 800 something restaurants and places that do food service that’s a big thing. For you Tom there, how much resources actually goes into maintaining the restaurant inspection database or whatever that you have there that is available online?
Tom Anderson: We are still a bit antiquated with today’s modern information technology in that we still do our inspection on paper so we have five fulltime field inspectors out doing the inspections along with other program activities such as septic inspections, water well inspections, [toning] inspections, nuisance complaints. So they are balancing their daily scheduling to get their food inspections done. The food program is the largest program activity wise for McLean County Health Department but they do their inspections on paper, they bring the paperwork in it’s reviewed by a supervisor and its forwarded on to clerical staff that enter the inspections into the computer and when its entered into the database its automatically sent to the server and documented on our website as to what the score of the establishment is.
David Inge: You are, one basic question again maybe I should ask this beginning a last time and I imagine probably the answer is going to be the same as I go round but when you go to inspect a restaurant do they know you are coming?
Tom Anderson: No, they are unannounced inspections. There is an exception to that, we do have a few establishments that don’t open until after hours. They are late night restaurant facilities catering mainly to the college crowd in which case we can’t afford to pay overtime to field people on a regular basis to send them out after hours into a restaurant. So many of those are, we’ll contact them two times out of the year to announce that we have set up an inspection and go in and do an inspection. But then we always try to get an operational inspection at least one time a year on those facilities.
David Inge: Okay, I am assuming that for the two of you here in Champaign-Urbana, Vermilion County the same thing applies. When you show up to do an inspection, they don’t know that you are coming?
Jim Roberts: That’s correct, it is unannounced routine inspections and re-inspections and like time too, we have one or two places where people are preparing food like for a shelter and they only gather together maybe on a Saturday morning or Friday afternoon we don’t know so we kind of make an appointment for those. But for the most part they see us knock, knock Jim Roberts is here and the purpose of my visit is to do an inspection.
Doug Toole: In Vermilion County its the same way, the places we set up an appointment with do a routine inspection but it is certainly the exception of their role.
David Inge: One of the things that I did I took a look at some of the reports that are now o the CU Citizen Access website and I guess from my part I would say some of that I am just really not quite sure what to make of it. That is, to really to understand what that means, what that thing is and in particular I am interested in how do you draw a distinction between what is considered to be a major violation and something that is still maybe a violation of a rule but less serious. How do you make the difference?
Jim Roberts: Well, that’s kind of defined for us in the Illinois food code, the food code is divided up amongst 45 different items or 46 different items and some of them are given the designation of being a critical violation and the others being non-critical violations and the critical violations are often associated with food borne illness outbreaks or an injury. For example, improper use of storage of chemicals can result in injury and that becomes as a critical violation.
Doug Toole: And certainly it’s more if you go into a place you see there is no thermometer in a cooler that’s a small violation. If the temperatures are bad that’s a major violation but just not having a thermometer that they can monitor I mean, which are handling the place, the food is all still frozen solid clearly the freezer is working but they still need to have a thermometer in there to keep track of it. That’s the difference between a one point violation and a five point.
Jim Roberts: I think that’s important too like when we do have our website up and we produce these inspection reports, part of what we are trying to do is have an educational component so that you kind of understand what you are going to be reading and so that gives you more information, help you make a decision of whether to dine there or not.
David Inge: Are there anything that Tom you might want to add and in particularly in terms of examples so you can help us sort of understand what’s the difference between a major violation and a minor one?
Tom Anderson: One other one that I will just cover is incidence of cockroaches. If you walk into an establishment and you find a dead cockroach on the floor the sanitary, the sanitarium is justified in writing that up as a critical violation. That’s a point where the sanitarian has to make a field decision and based upon their experience with the inspections of that particular establishment. Is one dead cockroach an indication of a serious problem, is it a legitimate violation? Yes, it is but is it a high risk situation? Probably not but if you walk into that same establishment and you find thousands of cockroaches or hundreds of cockroaches there is a problem there and obviously the management hasn’t addressed that problem as fairly as they should.
David Inge: Well, let me ask you just then as a follow up. So you go into a place and there is one dead cockroach are you not going to shut the restaurant down because there is one dead cockroach but so you have to on your inspection report maybe you have to note the fact that well I found one dead cockroach. What then are you expecting the restaurant operator to do differently? Are you going to come back later and just expect that one dead cockroach is going to be gone, but what really does that mean?
Tom Anderson: It goes back to what Jim and Doug have explained as the educational process. We would ask the operator, what are you doing for pest control and many times the operator will come out and they will have paperwork saying that Acme Pest Control was here onsite during this time and they will have their invoices. So that tells us that they are making a conscience effort to keep control or eliminate any pests that are within the establishment. One roach may have come in on a box from a distributor, we don’t know. So, and again it is based upon the history. Maybe in the past the inspector went out and found a serious problem with the roaches and again that would be the same with the violation, it would be a five point violation whether it will be thousands or just one. But this time the sanitarian is not so concerned because that demonstrates to that sanitarian that progress is being made in eliminating the infestation.
David Inge: We are talking this morning here about how you can find out what your favorite restaurant is doing in terms of meeting codes for safe and sanitary operations and what public health districts do to inspect those restaurants. So we are talking here with guests representing the Champaign Urbana public health district also the districts in Vermilion and McLean counties. So we’ll talked a little break here, we’ll have more in just a moment this is Focus.
David Inge: Let me introduce the guests again that we have with us here in the studio. With Jim Roberts he is a Director of Environmental Health for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. Doug Toole is here as well he’s Director of Environmental Health with the Champagne-Urbana for the Vermilion County Health Department and Tom Anderson is Director of Environmental Health for McLean County Health Department. We are talking about the whole subject of restaurant inspection and for people who are listening and watching you can give us a call.
If you have a place that has had major violations you write them up you tell them what it is and then there will be follow up inspections to see that they have dealt with those violations. What is the process that it has to go through?
Jim Roberts: Well if we have major violations during an inspection the sanitarian is required to have some of those corrected onsite right there while we are doing the inspection. So for example if there is a temperature problem if we could alleviate the temperature problem by repairing something or throwing away the food we are going to take care of some of those critical violations on the spot. In our enforcement section which maybe different than the other health departments we have some of the critical violations called major violations and these were characterized by the need of having someone assist the restaurant in helping correct this violation and sometime. So if we have had a major plumbing problem, a pest problem we require managers to be certified and they need to go enroll so they have to have a little time have outside assistance to be able to correct this violation then we ask for them to either send that information to us or we will go out and verify. Now if the score was in such a way that it was not a passing score then we will do a re-inspection.
David Inge: Okay so and this will actually this is one of the things I was really curious about it’s a…so you have some violations and this is…what constitutes a major violation is a code a state code. It’s really clear what the rules are then but then you are expecting now and if you find a violation you are expecting the manager or whoever is responsible who is running the place to deal with that and then it’s their responsibility to get whatever training or technical expertise or whatever to fix that problem and are you all involved in trying to help people fix their problems?
Jim Roberts: We do that as well too I mean we offer educational sessions for the employees for the employees for training and then the inspectors as they develop a wealth of knowledge of how people solve problems they are able to share that information about how you can fix this problem. So we are there both as an inspector but also as an educator by also as someone who can offer different options, different solutions that we have see in other places.
David Inge: Is there anything you want to add to that?
Doug Toole: That is certainly true I mean we have a lot of experience we can make recommendations but again we are not the managers or the owners of these establishments and although every permanent establishment should have one person per shift who has been and gone through a certified food manager course taken a test and passed it. So they are familiar with our codes and we are just going in there to kind of again with that snapshot in time see what its like in this particular day but the manager is familiar with all these. A situation came up a while ago because we don’t only close places when they score less if there is a major health problem. We got a complaint one time that one of the trucks stops in the county it’s been taken care off. The toilets were overflowing so badly in the bathroom it was getting out into the dining area. We don’t need to do a full inspection at that point, you are closed until you get a plumber to deal with this but the frustrating thing for us was that even though you’ve got sewage from the bathroom is coming into the dinning area the manager and the owner never thought to say “you know what customers you have to leave because this is not healthy” we still had to go there and tell them you got to shutdown.
David Inge: I’m surprised they had customers under conditions like that. Have Tom have there been many cases I don’t know can you site an example where maybe you went into a place and it was so bad you said “alright that’s it turn off the lights, lock the door we are closing this place down right now.”
Tom Anderson: Oh yeah usually that does happen it is definitely not the most frequent occurrence but you will get a complaint as Doug has explained and we are obligated as regulatory agencies to validate the complaint and find if it’s illegitimate and we have worked in on establishments that were operating under poor sanitary conditions as Doug said toilets overflowing. We had a storm one time where a tree branch fell on an establishment and it was during lunchtime and it put a hole right in the middle of the restaurant’s ceiling and the rain was coming in and they didn’t stop. We have to explain to them why they can’t serve the food. Why people don’t take it upon their own accord to realize the risk associated with those types of situations. I think if we can find an answer to that anyone of us on this talk show will Doug, Jim, myself would be retired.
Doug Toole: I think the reason these standout in our memories so well is because these are by far the exceptions as we are doing the scorecards we are seeing that 90-95% of the scorecards we give out are A’s. Most of the time something that is dealt with if you go as we’ve gone into restaurants their employees are keeping track of the temperatures in the coolers a couple times a day you can see it [in the grease] pencil there on this chart on the side. The managers are taking care of this and a lot of times they are correcting problems long before on their own because they know it is the right thing to do before we have to go in and tell them they’ve got to do it. A lot of the stuff gets self-corrected I think some of these stories stand out in our memory because it is very unusual to walk into a place and see a problem like that.
Jim Roberts: I want to say too is I think probably it was eluded to but I want to make sure everyone knows for all three of us is that the sanitarian or inspector is in a facility and they see an imminent public health hazard they have the authority to suspend their license and have that facility shut down. So you know you have a place that has no running water or the sewage backing up or whatever so.
David Inge: Okay we have a couple of callers here why don’t we include them, we have a couple callers here starting with someone in Urbana line 1. Hallo?
Caller: The question is what is the role of the consumer in all of this and I will hang up before you answer but what role do we have to play in public safety and restaurant health? Thanks.
David Inge: Alright well what is the role for a consumer?
Jim Roberts: Well I think one thing you can do is you can ask the manager for that inspection report, I mean you can actively take a part in this and see what they did and how they corrected it and you can also ask them about how do they cook their food. To what temperature they cook the food and they should give you a response that is a food safety response. So I think its like when you get a complaint too often times they call the Health Department “well did you contact the management about it” and they say “no well” you are a customer you are spending your money if you should go to management and contact them about whatever you’ve seen, heard or experienced because you have multiple eyes. You know the Health Department we have a number of individuals but you have multiple eyes out there that help us make sure that food is being prepared in a safe and sanitary manner.
David Inge: It is in …if people should want to, if they see they are in a restaurant they see something they think it is not sanitary or not good practice they can and I am sure they probably do call whatever is the local office and say look this is what I saw and… so then what do you do if someone calls in with a comment like that?
Doug Toole: We try to address the problem first. Sometimes it is something they are not clear about that is okay with the state law that they maybe aren’t aware of but a lot of times if they let me know that they spot a problem I’ll let some of our food inspectors know. If the place is coming up for a routine inspection and it is a small problem just have them make a note of it to look at it next time. If it’s a complain that could cause big problems then I’ll let one of the food inspectors know they may run out there that afternoon and take a look at it.
David Inge: Let me get Tom in on this, what do you think about that role for consumers here?
Tom Anderson: As Doug and Jim have explained the consumer is actually another set of eyes for us as we’ve all said we can’t be in restaurants 24 hours a day, seven days a week and if a consumer sees something that doesn’t look right to them the first action should be to ask the management about it and if the consumer doesn’t get a satisfactory answer then contact the Health Department. One of the more common inquiries that we receive in the form of a complaint is lack of hand gloves during the preparation of food and what a lot of people don’t know is that restaurants, the food establishments have a choice they can use hand glove as a barrier to prevent additional contamination to the food or they can have the hand washing program in place where their employees and trained intensively for the type of job that they are doing and trained on when and how often they have to wash their hands while handling that type of food product. The general public isn’t quite aware of that, that that’s there. That the establishment has a choice of requiring their employees to wear the hand gloves or to develop a hand washing program and put it into place and intensely train their employees on when to wash their hands.
David Inge: I don’t even if I as a consumer I am aware of that at last if I see somebody and they are handling food and they are wearing plastic gloves I can see that they are wearing plastic gloves. I don’t how often that person has washed their hands. I don’t know that I would find that very reassuring to say, well they can go either way and they are response well for training their employees to wash their hands.
Tom Anderson: And even though they are wearing hand gloves, they are responsible for routine hand washing.
David Inge: Even though they are wearing the gloves.
Tom Anderson: Exactly.
Doug Toole: You certainly don’t want to see someone who has issued a pair of gloves at the start of their shift and keeps them on for the entire shift even if they are changing jobs.
David Inge: Was there anything that you wanted to add? I have, I’ll tell you what, we will go to another caller here in Champaign and this is line number 2. Hallo.
Caller: Hi, so I actually if it is done once a year, the owner of the restaurant has an idea that you are not going to be in for at least for another 11 months, right? That’s, in other words it’s done annual.
David Inge: Yeah.
Jim Roberts: But it’s not a fixed annual. In other words it’s not going to be there every February and so I allow the, our inspectors to have variable schedules of when they want to do it. So if they have done it in March it’s true they are not going to be back for a while but it doesn’t mean they are going to be back in March again.
Caller: Yeah okay. So I mean there could be a change in personnel or there could be a change in coaxing and the whole thing in the mean time. Even within six months or actually even after you do the inspection.
Jim Roberts: That’s correct and that’s why I think looking at the trend over time would give the consumer a better idea of how well management in this facility manages food safety issues and sanitation.
Caller: Actually in that category of the biannual, do you really think that once a year is adequate? I know that there is always an issue of money, especially in this state even more so. Are there some states that do it more often?
Jim Roberts: There may be. I think that each county can have a different inspection frequency. What we described before was the minimum and that’s what the resources I have to handle the program.
Caller: The other one is that on premise, in other words at the restaurant there is somebody that’s supposed to be there who is certified in terms of an employee, in terms of… How often is that violated? It seemed to me that that one might be violated fairly often.
Doug Toole: That’s the kind of thing we catch when we do a routine inspection. We take a look through all the people who are certified food managers out there and make sure that they’ve got enough to cover the available shifts. If we spot that someone has, that one certified food manager has left we give them a certain amount of time to get someone else registered for the class and take the class and pass the class. But that can be a serious problem and again the certified food manager thing is something that helps us… You talk about many eyes; the idea isn’t that we are going to catch problems. I mean most of managers and employees and owners of these establishments want to run a good facility because their customers want to eat at a good facility and that they know that okay, may be the health department comes through in March and they are not going to be here for a another few months. But if they let the place really go they are going to lose customers because that’s the way the market is right now. I don’t need to go to your restaurant and your tavern. I can go to the one just down the road that’s got food very similar to that and I think that that level of competition keeps these places very clean in addition to the fact that the managers and employees and owners want to run a good facility.
They realize that letting things go because of laziness to cut corners is going to cost them customers.
Jim Roberts: And if I may add if you want to contact me, this is Jim, if you want to contact me one of the advantages of doing our inspection reports electronically is that I can ask within a date range what the frequency of auto compliance is. So if you want to contact me I can let you know.
David Inge: Thanks and just I want to make sure they understand is that it required that there be someone who is certified in attendance at all the times the restaurant is open or is just have to be somebody, at least one person who works there has the certification?
Jim Roberts: It depends on the risk category of the facility. The category 1s are required to have someone at all times. Category 2 is just required to have a person and that person may not be there in the afternoon shift.
David Inge: And then that person is responsible for in a sense for training other people and make sure that they know what the rules are?
Jim Roberts: That’s correct training and implementing the rules.
David Inge: Tom I just want to again follow up on the question about the frequency of inspection and whether it is… Again it comes back to the question is once a year enough do you think?
Tom Anderson: Low risk establishments and in trying to put a picture on low risk establishment in the general public’s mind. Those are mainly your convenience stores where there is no what we classify as potentially hazardous food products that are prepared on site. Everything is prepackaged; that there is not a lot of food service there. There is no preparation, it maybe your 7-Eleven that you go in and pull a prepackaged deli-product out of the refrigerator and as a customer you put it in the microwave, heat it up and pay for it and walk out. The very low risk types of establishments. One thing that we haven’t discussed is that each county is required to meet the minimum code for inspections. Jim I think you said that Champaign inspects a maximum of three times a year?
Jim Roberts: Yeah the categories 1’s yes.
Tom Anderson: Yes, McLean County inspects category 1’s four times a year. And we inspect no less than one time a year. But the state code allows us to inspect once every two years for category 3 risk. So we exceed the inspection requirements just a little bit. We go both and what the state code requires us.
David Inge: But I guess it comes down to what we were saying before is that almost no matter how often you inspect you could have an inspection and everything can be fine and then a week later you could have a problem. So what you are relying on is what is the record of the place over time and I suppose you are also relying on the people who are working there to try make sure that they are following the rules.
Tom Anderson: And that is the rationale behind having a certified food manager onsite. Is that person should be knowledgeable enough to readily identify a high risk situation or something that needs attention.
Jim Roberts: Right and take corrective action as they see that what the problems are.
David Inge: We got about five minutes left, we have a couple of callers here we want to try to get them both. Next Champaign line one, hello.
Caller: Yes I haven’t heard the entire program so I hope I’m not replaying anything that somebody said earlier. One thing I’m just curious about is, there is no list right? A publicly announced risk of violators. My understanding from reading a newspaper was that I have to actually let’s say well I’ll just tell you I have a toddler son. So every time I plan to go to eat technically I could call you because I don’t know whether this is a violator or not. So it seems to me that the system sounds set up to protect not your customers but these establishments. And so I’m just curious as to why if there isn’t some kind of list why there isn’t, that the public has access to online for example?
Jim Roberts: Right in Champaign-Urbana currently we do not have that online and yes you can contact us. But yes we are going to have that available so that you can find that information for yourself.
Doug Toole: And again its certainly public information so any time you want to call or stop by the office we can show that and we’ve got the scorecards and as we are updating our website looking at ways we can make the information a bit more accessible to the public.
Caller: Yeah I would see just making it completely accessible to the public. This is a democracy and we have the right to know that information and it should be online in my view.
David Inge: Alright let’s go to we have another, one more caller here. And let me again go to my list of callers and there is somebody in Coles County. Line number four.
Caller: Yes I’ve noticed a few times, several times that the person doing the cooking will occasionally take money from customers as they leave, as they give the money to them as they leave and handle paper money and change and then not to change their gloves when they go back to the food preparation area. Do you get complaints to that effect occasionally.
Doug Toole: Yes, again realize the public just sees a small part of the facility when they are in there; the rest rooms, the dining area and a small part of the food preparation area and I think its one of those tip of the iceberg things. If the bathrooms are filthy and the same person who takes your money then turns around and makes your sandwich or starts preparing your food without washing their hands or changing their gloves that is the kind of thing that gives you an indication that you know maybe they are not following the best food practices throughout the whole place.
Tom Anderson: Okay thank you.
Jim Roberts: Yes, we get those complaints too.
David Inge: We are down to the point here where we really have to finish I just, maybe one more time I am just having each of you talk briefly about how it is you were thinking about going forward from what you are doing now to what in addition you would like to be doing. I will start with Tom Anderson anything in addition to what you are now doing in terms of providing this information that you want to try to do?
Tom Anderson: Well currently we are looking to provide that information even faster than what you do now. Our programs are becoming antiquated from the mid ‘90s and late ‘90s technology is changing and we are looking at providing electronic inspection services so that our field people would be carrying laptops in the field and doing their inspections and doing away with the NCR paper in the hopes that we could send a wireless to our servers right in the field. So it’s about as real time as you can get.
David Inge: And here in the studio with me Jim and Doug that you are wanting to move in this direction?
Doug Toole: It is something we are looking at, we certainly want the public to be able to make informed decisions about the places they are eating, we have got some low tech facilities in place now with the scorecards we have had since 2003 so we are making some steps in that direction and as we are updating our website and making some other changes we are looking at maybe moving forward to that.
Jim Roberts: And we are doing the high tech part right now and so our next objective here is to get that information out in the website so I would encourage anyone to contact me about how you would like to have this displayed and I’d also like people to think about how to do this not only high tech but also low tech
Doug Toole: There we have to leave over there thanks to Jim Roberts, he is the Director of Environmental Health for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District here also with me Doug Toole he is Director of Environmental Health for the Vermilion and County Health Department and joining us by phone Tom Anderson Director of Environmental Health with the McLean County Health Department. Tom thank you very much.
Tom Anderson: You are welcome thank you for having me.
David Inge: And Jim and Doug thank you.
Doug Toole: Thank you.
Jim Roberts: Welcome.
David Inge: And if you want to find out more about this issue you go the website of the CU Citizen Access Project which is cu-citizen.org.